An Egyptian court has suspended a ruling freezing a controversial deal to hand over the control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
According to judicial sources, the Court of Urgent Matters on Thursday issued an injunction against the freeze filed at the behest of Ashraf Farahat, a lawyer.
Reacting to the ruling, Khaled Ali, the lawyer who had demanded that the transfer be blocked, said the court had no jurisdiction in this case.
“Only the highest administrative court can suspend the implementation of an administrative court’s verdict,” he said.
Ali, who filed the June lawsuit to annul the maritime deal, also said he would announce legal steps to block the new decision on Saturday.
Legal experts have also dismissed the ruling, saying the court was not qualified to pronounce on matters related to public administration.
The Court of Urgent Matters’ original brief was to tackle cases that needed quick resolution. But since the 2011 uprising that ended the 30-year rule of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the court has ruled on cases involving bans or restrictions of political parties and other such sensitive matters.
In June, an Egyptian court voided the maritime border deal signed during a visit to Cairo by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in April. The Cairo government said at the time that it would appeal the administrative court’s decision.
The agreement concedes Egypt’s control of the strategic Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia. It has sparked angry protests in Cairo and other cities.
Egyptians, who have considered the islands to be their land for decades, say the government is selling the country’s territory to a wealthy ally. Critics also say the agreement violates the Egyptian constitution.
Egyptian courts have given jail terms to hundreds of people for taking part in the protests against the handover of the islands to the Persian Gulf kingdom.
Tiran Island is located at the entrance of the Straits of Tiran, which separate the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba.
Its strategic significance lies in the fact that it is an important sea passage to the major ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel.
Sanafir Island is in the east of Tiran Island, and measures 33 square kilometers (13 square miles) in area.
Israel briefly took over the islands in late 1956, and once more between 1967 and 1982 following the Six Day War. The ownership of the two islands was transferred to Egypt in 1982, when Tel Aviv and Cairo signed the Camp David peace accords.